Your relationship with your government is not like 50 Shades Anastasia cleverly contracting the terms of her submission and getting lots of orgasms and total safety from a hard-working dominant. You are like an abused house wife who was born into her marriage, rationalizes her submission, accepts all the rules, and blames herself for the black eyes. Because power without counterweight will always turn into abuse. No, always.
There is a difference between submission and masochism but it hardly matters when the dominant one doesn’t have an incentive to keep the well-being of the submissive in mind. Then it is merely abuse. And it is never submission when there is no choice to walk away. Such is the relation between the state and its subjects.
Here is one take on submission – from the bottom end of the literary scale:
„By giving up control I felt free. From responsibility, from making decisions… I felt safe. You will too. You’ll see.”
Fifty shades of Grey (movie, 2015) Dir: Sam Taylor-Johnson
This is where the confusion starts. Confusing relief (from responsibility) with freedom. But does it end in mutual satisfaction?
Submission is a voluntary act. It means giving up control. It requires a dominant who keeps the submissive’s best interest at heart. Submission promises safety, while taking away the choices. The burden of choice, if you like. The thrill of helplessness and limited possibilities – under the reassurance of safety. Being a child again.
In order for this to be true, there must be a hard-working and responsible dominant playing his own part. Guaranteeing someone’s safety and pleasure is no easy task.
Submission is not a willingness to tolerate humiliation or an invitation to find out how far is too far. It is an exchange of power and handing over control. It is different from masochism, even if they may come together. But does the partner know that?
Let me take a neck-wrenching turn and jump straight up to the canonized top of the literary totem pole:
With her broad shoulders, her grey crew cut and her courses in ‘gender studies’, Chantal Delouze, the president of Paris III, had always struck me as a dyed-in-the-wool lesbian, but I could have been wrong, or maybe she bore a hatred towards men that expressed itself in fantasies of domination.
Michel Houellebecq – Submission (2015)
Houellebecq’s protagonist (like every Houellebecq-protagonist) is a card-carrying misogynist who gives pleasant little rants on the intellectual justifications of his disdain for women (while he never fails to let us know how many of them he managed to bed and in how many ways). This particular quote perfectly sums up how dominance is confused with hatred and sadism. A lesbian must hate men – and that explains why she makes them eat her pussy: out of “dominance”, no less. And from his definition of dominance stems his definition of “submission” – the subject of the book.
It is not by accident that dominance is confused with sadism and hatred. When meeting with unconditional and unilateral submission one doesn’t necessarily grow up to the task of domination. Sinking to sadism and loathing is easier.
Arguably, submissives have a stronger incentive to make the distinction. They signed up for a benevolent, responsible dominant – not a petty sadist. That is the ‘consent’ part from ‘informed consent’.
And the dominant should also be informed. When someone submits to the Average Joe without putting down the rules, she is likely to get an unpleasant lesson in the dynamics of unchecked power: Joe will keep pushing the limits and won’t believe that the victim doesn’t resist. He will go through every nasty move he’d ever seen in porn.
Let’s see if she lets me do it with the chair…
Ultimately, he will end up despising his victim for being “masochistic”. For not resisting someone like Joe. Even Joe would resist Joe. If there’s anything we know about power, it is that it corrupts. Blaming the underdog is one of the many ways it happens.
How power turns into hatred
We may put the blame on someone who voluntarily submits without clear rules for the abuse that inevitably follows. But what happens when the control is not given up, but taken? Can we apply the distinction between voluntary submission and abuse to other forms of control?
In the back story of V for Vendetta political prisoners were used as guinea pigs for an experiment by their government to create a virus that destroys populations. They were imprisoned at gunpoint and treated at a secret compound. This is a quote from the doctor who experimented on them.
“I keep wondering if these people knew how they might be helping their country. If they might be acting any differently. They’re so weak and pathetic. I find myself hating them.”
V for Vendetta (2005) Dir: The Wachowskis
Blaming and hating the weak for their own plight is mental self-defence. This way she can go on killing the people exposed to her.
When there is no consent, there is no dominance. Only abuse. Enlightened and benevolent rulers don’t stay that way for long. Corrupt leaders go through the learning curve from sheepishly embezzling a few millions here and there – to ending up with blatant state capture, stealing public money by the truckload. They have expected some resistance. They still can’t believe their eyes that the population is so accepting. Far from being in love, they find themselves hating them. They don’t resist. They hope for benevolence. They are weak and pathetic.
Is it submission when there is no choice?
Let us take the cliched image of an overworked CEO who pays a professional domme for a session. He pays for shrugging off responsibility and not making decisions for a change. He pays for the thrill of being dominated. But what happens when there is no remuneration and no choice?
Let us move on to the equally tired cliche of a submissive wife who lets things happen to her in bed because that is how things must be. Does she expect an orgasm out of it? No. Does she have a choice to say no to sex? In fundamentalism, no. Endurance is virtue, the ability to take pleasure is not. She is thus not submissive – she is abused.
When you have to have sex with a particular person informed consent doesn’t make sense. It is not sub-dom. There will be no concern for your well-being. When you have to submit to one particular government it is not voluntary submission, just limitless exposure. And nothing stops power from abusing it because you have no tool to enforce your side of the deal. The thrill of safety. The pleasure. Not to be humiliated. Not to have to tolerate pain. You may have to pay for it, yes. You have to pay taxes (or more precisely taxes are taken from you). But that is not like the CEO paying the domme. It is being forced to pay or else.
This is what happens when power is tilted by design. It cannot deliver safety, it doesn’t have to give you pleasure. It will inevitably deteriorate into abuse.
With power comes responsibility – or does it?
How many times have you heard people dreaming about economic and physical safety delivered to them by their governments? Regressing into childhood and expecting food, fun and freedom (from choice) all coming from their state? Explaining how the rules and orders serve their own good? That they submit to this regime in order to… feel free from responsibility like Anastasia Grey does in a silly novel? To feel safe? But is it submission, when they had no choice? Aren’t they mistaking benevolent dominance with unchecked power?
We cannot choose not to submit to the power of a state after all. (Choosing sex.) We cannot even choose which state. (Choosing the partner.) We don’t even get to negotiate our social contract like Anastasia does. (Choosing submission instead of, say, being equals.) So we don’t really submit, we are abused.
And we are not even pretty. Power is not in love with us. We are like a woman born into a marriage who keeps telling herself that whatever the rules, they are meant to serve her safety, and that the black eye is all her fault. And if there’s no choice, it is genuinely in her best interest that her abuser be satisfied. He hurts less. Hopefully.
And even if they wanted to please us, it doesn’t mean they know how to. Just because we don’t take care of our own safety and pleasure doesn’t mean that others can.
What works for a pretty, 20-year-old girl to secure pleasure from an experienced dominant may not work for an entire society to secure the benevolence of their government. Governments have no incentive to make us orgasm – they don’t even have o refrain from giving us pain. They can get away with hurting our interests and taking their own pleasure for decades on end – and blame it on the difficulty of keeping us safe. And to keep us free from choice. Definitely free from choice.
The social contract is institutional sadism
It is hard to find someone in private life who understands that dominance is hard work and that it comes with responsibility. Imagine how hard it is to get this message through via public elections. Forget pleasure, we should take better care of the few tools left for feedback. Don’t just convince yourself that it must be for your own safety. Tell them what you want. Or better still, revoke your consent and renegotiate. Do we even have a safe word?
When your dominant is too busy “keeping you safe” to listen to you, or take care of your orgasm, he really is just a sadist. He probably also despises you for letting things done to yourself. When you cannot walk away from sex with your government you are not a submissive and your pleasure is not their concern. It is not even sado-maso. It is abuse.
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